NEW FEA­TURE WHO’S THE GREAT­EST?

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Stocks in Chittagong

Every­week, at Eng­land’s spe­cial­ists of last 30 years

ENG­LAND’STest play­ers will face a bru­tal phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­am­i­na­tion when they play seven Tests on the Sub-con­ti­nent in the next ten weeks.

The first two of those, start­ing in Chittagong on Thurs­day, might be a rel­a­tively gen­tle in­tro­duc­tion against Bangladesh but then the se­ri­ous busi­ness, five matches in close suc­ces­sion against a ram­pant In­dia, be­gins.

It prom­ises to be the tough­est as­sign­ment any Eng­land team have faced in re­cent his­tory, so over the com­ing months it is im­per­a­tive that the team’s big play­ers stand up to be counted.

Alas­tair Cook, Eng­land’s Test cap­tain, is a proven per­former in Asia, show­cased by the three cen­turies that in­spired his side to a mem­o­rable Test series win on their last visit to In­dia in 2012.

Joe Root made his Test de­but in the last match of that series in Nag­pur four years ago and along­side Ben Stokes, the all-rounder who made his own de­but in the heat of an away Ashes white­wash in 2013-14, Eng­land have two men who they will be re­ly­ing on to back up their cap­tain.

A Test squad that will ini­tially be miss­ing the in­jured James An­der­son in Bangladesh, and per­haps the start of the series in In­dia, is light on ex­pe­ri­ence.

It means Root and Stokes be­come even more cru­cial mem­bers of an Eng­land team that in In­dia at least could be for­given for think­ing they are on a hid­ing to noth­ing.

An il­lus­tra­tion of Eng­land’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity is the fact a 19-year-old opener in Haseeb Hameed is ex­pected to make his de­but in Chittagong next week.

The Lan­cashire bats­man, who was sched­uled to pull on an Eng­land shirt for the first time to­day in the open­ing two-day tour match against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI, is a bright tal­ent. He has been called up for this tour be­cause no­body else since 2012 – in­clud­ing the lat­est fail­ure in Alex Hales – has man­aged to make a suc­cess of be­com­ing Cook’s open­ing part­ner.

And while Hameed will be con­fi­dent he can suc­ceed where his eight pre­de­ces­sors have failed, he has been urged by Paul Far­brace, Eng­land’s as­sis­tant coach, to fol­low the ex­am­ple of Root in deal­ing with the added pres­sure of in­ter­na­tional cricket.

“It’s go­ing to be re­ally phys­i­cally and men­tally tough with seven Tests on the bounce,” said Far­brace.

“We haven’t got that many ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers in our Test side so it does mean the likes of Cook, Stokes and Root take on a big role now. Look at some­one like Haseeb at 19 who has come out here all wide-eyed and look­ing at what’s ahead of him.

“We’re all ex­cited to see what he can do. But you never know un­til peo­ple play in­ter­na­tional cricket whether they’ve got the right men­tal make up to cope with it.

“The ma­jor­ity of the time your tech­nique is not in doubt so it’s can you score runs when it’s hot, sticky con­di­tions and you don’t face many balls? Have you got the con­cen­tra­tion to cope with that and the men­tal make up to cope with ev­ery­thing else?

“There are more cam­eras, more peo­ple watch­ing, more pres­sure. It’s a gold­fish bowl and the peo­ple who cope with it and learn quickly are the peo­ple who make a suc­cess of in­ter­na­tional cricket.

“Joe Root is a great ex­am­ple for the young fella to watch and see how he’s de­vel­oped from some­one who not that long ago was bat­ting at six for York­shire and is now at three for Eng­land and one of the best play­ers in the world.

“He’s got a great role model to copy, watch and learn from but the im­por­tant thing is he needs to play his way.”

How­ever, Root’s ex­pe­ri­ence and stature means it’s not just the younger play­ers who can learn from him.

Gary Bal­lance, who at the age of 26 and with 19 Tests un­der his belt, is a rel­a­tive vet­eran in this squad but the Zim­babwe-born bats­man spoke in glow­ing terms of the help his York­shire team-mate gave him dur­ing his open­ing prac­tice ses­sion of the tour yes­ter­day.

“I had a ses­sion with Rooty, watch­ing him play spin as he’s one of the best around,” said Bal­lance.

“Just watch­ing the way he plays and talk­ing to him about it is good. He’s got his way of play­ing and it’s been suc­cess­ful.”

As for Stokes, his all-round abil­i­ties are not just con­fined to bat­ting and bowl­ing.

“He re­ally does give ev­ery­thing to the Eng­land team,” says Far­brace. “He is the heart­beat of our team.What he has shown in these last few games is he is ma­tur­ing all the time into a very high qual­ity in­ter­na­tional crick­eter and he will only get bet­ter.

“He’s still a young man and his tal­ent has no ceil­ing. He’s worth his weight in gold in our team.”

If Stokes and Root can back up their cap­tain over the com­ing weeks then they may be worth even more than that.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Ashes heroes: Now Ben Stokes, left, and Joe Root have to be Eng­land’s role mod­els

Still learn­ing: Haseeb Hameed nets be­fore mak­ing his Eng­land de­but

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